“I went to the wrong place,” I say, somewhat dejected. I’m sitting in the parking lot of Orchards Feed Mill, but where I’d intended was Wilco (another feed store). I will never know the difference between these two stores and up until 4 years ago had no idea they even existed. But I do know that the sign in front of me was different from my mental line item.
I’m talking on the phone with Kaitlyn, who’s in North Carolina attending a work training for the week. And I’m obviously out of my element being the sole caretaker of the animals.
“That’s fine! They have it there,” she reassures me, referring to the rat food I need to pick up.
In case I haven’t explicitly stated in the past, Kaitlyn manages 99% of the animal care at our house. The 1% consists of me letting the dogs out during the work day, feeding them on nights when Kaitlyn stays at the barn late, and the two times I had to touch a tortoise because Olive got out of the enclosure. I very vaguely know what Kaitlyn does for each animal, and I try to know even less about what it costs. Even still, despite walking past the animal room multiple times every single day, it’s amazingly easy for me to forget they’re there. The people we have watch the animals when we go out of town easily know more about their care than I do.
“Just stay on the phone with me and I’ll walk you through it,” she says, as if I’m doing a task much more complicated than walking through a store. But I readily accepted the help. And the PRECISION with which she gave directions cannot be overstated. From the aisle number to the shelf placement to the surrounding items. She knew it all and I went straight to it.
“You want the young rat food?” I ask.
“Yeah. And actually, get one of the adult food, too.”
I double-check that I’m getting bags for the right species before asking, “Anything else?”
“Maybe get some more patties for the dogs while you’re there.”
My immediate response is, of course, “where’s that?” And she guides me back to the raw dog food section, pointing out landmarks along the way, as if she’s watching me on security footage in an unmarked white van in the parking lot.
The Stella & Chewy dinner patties are what I’m looking for and I give the update when I get there. “Okay, I’m looking at the frozen patties.”
“No, turn around,” she corrects. “The freeze-dried, not frozen.”
“Oh!” I turn to see a row of clearly marked red bags. I realize she said that the first time and somehow it didn’t register. “That was a close one. I almost bought a giant bag of the frozen ones. Okay, which flavor should I get?”
“What are the options?”
I list them off, making sure to only look for the ones that say Dinner Patties on them.
"Get the salmon and chicken ones. They’ll like that.”
Officially carrying my limit in one hand and ready to check out, I thank Kaitlyn for all her help before hanging up and walking to the register.
As the cashier rings me up, she looks at the rat food and asks, “Is this part of the program?”
I pause for a second (for some reason the word “program” has triggered the idea of a 12 step recovery support group for rats) before stumbling through, “I…don’t know what that means. So…no.”
“It’s like a punch card where if you buy a certain number, you get one free. But, never mind…” she trails off. We both know I’m a lost cause.
I pay for the stuff and walk out, feeling victorious that the task is done and still relieved I didn’t have to make another stop.
The rest of the week goes relatively smoothly, though more than once Kaitlyn texts me around 9:00 or 10:00 to make sure I’m awake since I haven’t responded yet. The reality is I’m not a morning person and feeding the tortoises and the dogs immediately drains my limited mental capacity, leaving me in a stupor for the first hour or so of the day.
I’m naturally a perfectionist but for this week, I’ve set the rock bottom expectation to just not kill anybody. And every time I get up to feed myself or go to the bathroom, I cycle through the list of animals and check to see if there are any chores I’ve missed. Really, Kaitlyn kept the list as simple as possible but I’m still paranoid about something bad happening on my watch.
I manage to make it through without any major mishaps and it’s Friday afternoon when I go to pick up Kaitlyn from the airport.
“I’ll be back with your favorite person,” I say as I walk out the door and I swear they understand.
She’s waiting at pick-up spot 5. I pull in, she loads her suitcase in the trunk, and slides into the front seat. “We all missed you!” I say as I lean over to give her a hug and a kiss. I ask about her flight and how she’s feeling, getting a quick update of her morning. But we don’t even make it to the freeway before she starts quizzing me.
“Is everybody still alive?”
“Yes,” I respond confidently.
“Did you collect the chicken eggs?”
My heart sinks. “I forgot about the chickens,” I say in disbelief. “I mean, I didn’t forget about them. They were always on my mental list as I cycled through but I automatically checked them off because you filled their food before you left. I forgot about the eggs.”
“Did you give Emmy her medicine this morning?”
“Damn it!” How has she immediately picked out the things I overlooked? Emmy’s medicine came the day before. I dutifully brought the box in…and promptly forgot about it. “Sorry…” I say, sheepishly.
We get home, I go back to work in my office, and Kaitlyn putters around the house checking on everyone. And then I hear, “You got the puppy patties!” from the kitchen.
“What?” I exclaim, unwilling to accept strike three. But as I walk into the kitchen, there’s no mistaking that “puppy” is quite literally the largest word on the package.
Kaitlyn laughs. “It’s amazing to me that you can be so detail-oriented, except when it comes to anything animal related.”
It’s true. I can tell Kaitlyn exactly where her second pair of glasses is, where she left her wallet, and where to find the tiny screwdriver set (top drawer of the garage tool bench in the top right corner in a case with a red bottom and a clear plastic top). I can describe where to find the chia seeds, say how much milk is left in the fridge, and immediately produce a new book of checks. I know how to tell when she’s driven my car last, notice things even slightly askew, and pick out spots where the paint is off on the ceiling.
I excel with the human details. But put me in charge of an animal and I have the skillset of a five-year-old with their first goldfish. I generously give myself a grade of C- for the week, bolstered only by the fact that I managed to maintain life. So….I passed! But we don’t need to talk about which grade level.
We’re hiking along a trail in the south island of New Zealand when the thoughts start to come. New Zealand had been a bucket list destination and the scenery, outdoor activities, and people did not disappoint. We were hiking on Hooker Valley Track, a must-do from our Google searches and also one my out-of-shape self could do without my mood nearly ending our marriage. We were surrounded by snowy mountains and clear running water, trekked over multiple suspension bridges, and ate lunch overlooking a lake with glaciers peaking above the surface. It reminded me of so many places we’ve been - mini Swiss mountains, rugged Scottish highlands, and the rivers and trees of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s no wonder to me that my thoughts turned to my dad.
He would love this, I thought, in a context that felt both past and present. It was enough to make me halfway forget for the tiniest of moments that he died in 2014. I indulged myself by playing out the scenario of taking my dad back to this exact trail.
Kaitlyn and I would get back to the U.S. and tell him he had to go, that the PNW had just been his training grounds. My dad absolutely loved the outdoors - walking, hiking, backpacking, camping. If it involved landscapes, solitude, and a car full of “ultra light” REI gear, he was in. He was a walking encyclopedia for the Columbia River Gorge and could give recommendations based on view, distance, and incline (though sometimes he undersold the difficulty).
“Did you go camping a lot growing up?” Kaitlyn once asked.
“It felt like more than I did,” I replied. Not because it was bad or that I was suffering through, but because it was memorable. He took my older sister and me backpacking at Blue Lake, and there were at least a couple summer trips to Takhlakh Lake. I remember several hikes in the gorge, him leading the way with his heavy backpack of camera gear and walking stick that doubled as a tripod.
And on the trail to New Zealand, I imagined what it might be like to be his tour guide (I mean, I had been there a whole week by this point). I thought about convincing him to come and us hiking more in preparation. So quickly I fell into the details of warning him that customs would take forever with camping equipment and reassuring him that Kaitlyn would do all the driving since it’s on the opposite side of the road.
I’m not exactly sure why I let myself get so deep into the thought. Maybe it was the peace of the trail or maybe it’s just a manifestation of my desire to plan everything, but it was like one of those dreams where he was alive again. In those dreams there’s still a cognitive dissonance I can’t escape, even in my subconscious, but still it feels rationally unexplainable and I carry on. This is the journey my mind went on halfway across the world.
What’s interesting is that I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have had the same planning thoughts if my dad was still alive. Like, I can’t actually imagine Kaitlyn and I ever going on a trip with just my dad. And aside from the initial report back on our trip, or maybe even a casual recommendation that he should go (not with us, to be clear), I wouldn’t have anything else to say. I was never super close with my dad. I remember both the super awkward conversations and also the lack of conversation. He was hard to read, quiet and reserved. Particular. It was honestly more complicated than not and the thing is, that complication persists through grief.
I was seeing a therapist during the time my dad died. It came out of nowhere and was nothing short of traumatic. My dad was in the hospital 10 days before he died, and I had a therapy session in those 10 days. It was the very beginning of my grappling with what was about to happen. I didn’t even know where to begin processing and it was further complicated by all my feelings being tangled in a web of shock. But as I tried to start talking through what had happened, the conversation naturally evolved to the relationship itself.
I had regrets. I had unfinished business. I had frustrations and discomfort. I had core parts of myself he didn’t know, that I wasn’t sure he would accept. I didn’t get closure, and I’m not even sure what “closure” would’ve looked like.
“Don’t you think he has regrets too?” my therapist asked.
And the thing is, it’s so common when people die to put them on a pedestal. To never speak ill of them, to only remember the good parts. As if they were perfect. And I think my internal struggle was that I didn’t want him to be on a pedestal. That didn’t feel authentic, didn’t feel representative. Most people don’t talk about the cognitive dissonance that comes with being overwhelmingly sad and…confused? Frustrated? Unsettled? Nobody told me about the “and” situation.
I miss my dad. I wanted him at my wedding. I wanted him to help with projects when we bought our house - to coach me through built-ins and teach me about woodworking and help me set up a little workshop in our garage. I wanted his advice on the best gear to get (and maybe borrow) when we went backpacking. I wanted to talk coding with him when I got a job in tech.
“You can plan for the typical events,” my friend’s mom said to me once when we were talking about grief. “The anniversaries, the birthdays, the holidays. It’s the little moments that are so hard. The ones that catch you off-guard, that hit you when you’re unprepared.”
New Zealand was one of those moments. And as time goes on, I’ll keep having these moments. Keep remembering that grief isn’t linear and it doesn’t have an end date. Which is how I could end up in New Zealand, randomly imagining a trip that would never happen both because it’s physically impossible and also because relationships are weird. It also helps explain why my dad’s number is still in my phone when I don’t remember ever calling him up just to chat. I'm learning to hold space for both truths, learning that feelings are as deep as the experiences that bring them, and grief is as complex as the life lived before.
I got my first salaried job in 2014. In the 9 years since then, I’ve worked for 9 different companies, made a major career change, and pivoted from the world of public education to the corporate space. Despite these statistics, I haven’t actually changed my job every year. In fact, I managed to stay at one of them for a whopping three years! On the other hand, my shortest tenure was 3 weeks at a mess of a company that absolutely wreaked havoc on my mental health. In my most tumultuous year, I filed my taxes with 5 W-2s (the agony). While I’d like to think I’m not completely unreliable, the reality is a trend of staying at a job for an average of a year and a half.
Rather than doing any necessary self-reflection on why this is (there’s one common denominator here), let me instead impart my wisdom on applying for jobs in 2023. I think you’ll see that I’m uniquely qualified for this role (let the note-taking commence) because despite my resume being marked with a scarlet Absolutely Not, I do miraculously keep getting interviews.
To start, let’s first acknowledge a significant caveat that the process I’m about to describe applies mostly to the corporate setting. If you’re looking for work in another sector, the following additional considerations apply:
Higher ed - Add at least two months to the interview process, including a presentation to a faculty panel regardless of its applicability to your role.
Public K-12 - Combine all steps into one 30 minute interview and are you able to start immediately?
Government - I have no experience so can’t really say but judging by the current state, you’re probably too young for consideration.
This post is also going to describe the process of success, which I whole-heartedly acknowledge is rare and still somewhat mystical. Part luck, part experience, part privilege, part connections. The ratios vary but the constant is that you never really know when it’s going to be the one. Details, details.
With that out of the way, let’s get into it. We begin with phase one - the prep. My strategy for this has admittedly changed over the years. What started as very methodical has shifted to a focus on speed and sheer volume. You’ll need to update your resume with your current work experience, add in some power phrases (the word “champion” should be used at least once), and potentially give it a visual refresh. Double-check that you don’t have any typos, but also accept that you won’t see the typo you missed until you’ve applied to at least 50 companies.
Next, you need to outline the minimum criteria you’ll accept, or, phase two. For me, that criteria includes:
Absolutely no people managing, leading teams, or expectations for regular presentations
Company rating greater than or equal to 4 stars on GlassDoor
Within salary range (ain’t nobody got time for companies who don’t post it)
No travel greater than 5%
No requirement for a cover letter
Once you set the bare bones needs and dealbreakers, you’re on to phase three: throw out your resume to every job that passes the first scan. This stage starts off mildly exciting but quickly becomes a brutal test of resilience. Keep in mind the pace is quick. If a company doesn’t get back to you within 3-5 days, it’s time to mentally write them off. 5% of the time this will be accompanied by a formal rejection email but the rest of the time it’ll just feel like you’re throwing your resume into the void. This is where breadth over depth works in your favor. Don't worry, we planned for this.
Phase four is when morale receives a boost. A recruiter reaches out to you -there’s interest! This is when you start researching the company and immediately begin imagining what your life would be like at the new job. Read through the reviews, try to figure out the benefits situation, do some light LinkedIn stalking, and I guess maybe take a look at what the company actually does. Phase four is when you officially become emotionally invested, but buckle up, because the emotions only get more intense from here.
All that prep happens as soon as someone reaches out to you and before phase five - the actual interviews. It starts with a 30 minute call from a recruiter to make sure you’re an actual human and you read the job description. You skimmed it the first time but after phase four your hard work will start to pay off and you'll be able to speak eloquently on how you couldn't imagine a role more tailor made for you. Speaking of pay, your primary goal during this call is to try to pin them down a little bit on the actual salary range. Although you’ve already weeded out the non-posters and the low-ballers, the rest will likely say something like, “the base salary range for this position is expected to be between $32,000 and $245,000”. Those sneaky bastards.
Phase six brings an interview with the hiring manager where the primary goal is to make sure you didn’t lie on your resume and you actually know what you’re talking about. This is maybe the most important step - not necessarily for securing the job but to help inform The Decision. The hiring manager is likely going to be your manager in the actual role and managers Make. The. Job. It would be better if there was a site like unto ratemyprofessors.com where, rather than rate the entire company like GlassDoor reviews, former employees can give anonymous reviews of their manager. Consider this my formal call to software developers everywhere to make it happen. In the meantime, you’ll have to be satisfied with the company-wide cultural commentary and also exercise constant vigilance during the interview. Be on high alert for any whiffs of micromanagement, unrealistic expectations, or otherwise toxic behavior.
During phase seven, the interview cycles can branch out in several different ways: submit a portfolio (have you really been working the past couple years?), technical interview (again, the lie test), panel interview (your second chance at a vibe check), cultural fit (are you an asshole?), and finally, upper-management interview (a formality. You will never talk to them again). If you’re anxious, add plus or minus 24 hours before and after each interview for inner turmoil, rehearsing, analyzing, rehashing, and overall paralysis.
If you make it through this roller coaster - congratulations! You’re onto phase eight (or 14, who can say) - the offer! This is your first indication of the validity of those GlassDoor reviews you obsessed over and where you start to evaluate how well they match up to your expectations. But first, take a minute to bask in the validation that they want you and settle into the peace that the interviewing is finally over. You did it! You're good enough!
If you’re extroverted, confident, or just, like, not part of a marginalized population, this might even even lead to phase 8b - negotiation. I have no advice here.
Phase nine is arguably the most annoying because, even for non-serial-job-hoppers, it’s repetitive - telling your current employer (and family and friends) you’re jumping ship for something else. Be prepared to express your “mixed emotions” over and over, as if the “bittersweet” news isn’t 100% your doing. Throw in phrases like, “I wasn’t actually looking but it’s an opportunity I can’t pass up” to help fuel the narrative that only something AMAZING could ever pull you away from this totally replaceable job. Record a mental talking track of what your next role will be, your start date, and whether or not you’re doing anything fun or relaxing between jobs. You’ll have two weeks of this conversation peppered with sifting through the docs on your computer for the ones that actually need to be handed over for your manager to never look at again (but stresses the importance of). It’s grueling, but this is one of the few steps in the process with a predefined end date. You can make it. Unless, of course, you’re one of those rockstars who makes their departure effective immediately. The company is still in the same spot but you’ve saved yourself from the Goodbye Merry Go Round. You’re a person before your time.
I think most people would end here and say that phase ten, starting the new job, isn’t part of the application process. And it’s true, you have the job! But it only takes one failed onboarding experience (remember the three-week disaster?) to know that the first couple months is still an evaluation. Most companies have some variation of a probationary period and you’re most likely trying to prove yourself and make a good impression. But the interview process unfairly gives more time for the company to assess you than for you to assess them. Phase ten marks the end of the speed dating round, when both of you have to determine if the relationship is a good fit or if you’ve been catfished after all.
Ideally though, the beginning of the job is the honeymoon period. Again, if you’re anxious and/or introverted, give yourself at least two weeks of complete discomfort in not knowing anyone or anything. Then, settle into the learning stage, the small, tightly scoped projects, and the discovery of fringe perks (you know how I love the swag). The post-anxiety beginning is as good as it gets. Hold on as long as you can and be proud you made it through the process to successful employment!
So anyway, in totally unrelated news I just hit the one year mark at my current job. And yes, I updated my resume.